Yuvraj onslaught overwhelms England
Yuvraj Singh did a Garry Sobers on his way to an astonishing 12-ball half-century as India's batsmen eviscerated the English bowling at Kingsmead. England's response was a hard-hitting one, but with no one able emulate Yuvraj, India held on for an 18-run victory that kept alive their hopes of a place in the semi-finals. Vikram Solanki, Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood tilted at the windmill for a while, but a fine spell from Irfan Pathan ensured that England went home with no wins in the Super Eights.
India finished with 218 for 4, with Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir also making fifties, but everything that went before was eclipsed by the penultimate over in which Yuvraj came out swinging against a hapless Stuart Broad. There had been an altercation of sorts with Andrew Flintoff at the end of the previous over, and Yuvraj took out his ire on the white ball. The first ball was sent soaring over midwicket and nearly out of the ground, and the second flicked behind square. After an effortless loft over extra-cover and another biff behind point off a poor full toss, you could sense the frisson of excitement around the ground.
Paul Collingwood and Broad had a chat, but it didn't help, as an on-bended-knee effort over midwicket was followed by another huge swipe over wide mid-on. Six balls, six sixes, 36 runs, and utter humiliation for an English team that had already exited the tournament.
They hadn't started badly, with James Anderson, Flintoff and Broad bowling tidily early on as India struggled to force the pace. There was one majestic pull for six by Gambhir off Broad's bowling and the singles came along often enough though, but it was the introduction of the lesser bowlers that precipitated a ruthless assault.
Sehwag pulled Dimitri Mascarenhas for four and then walloped a six over cover as 15 came from the over, while Chris Tremlett was greeted with a top-edged slash for six to third man. Running out of options, Collingwood brought himself on. The impact was nearly immediate, but the miscue from Sehwag was put down by Mascarenhas at short fine leg. The enormity of that lapse was brought home with a cut over point for six and a crunched cover-drive that got Sehwag to 50 in just 38 balls.
Gambhir wasn't idle either, cracking Tremlett down the ground and then taking Darren Maddy for two fours in an over as he got to his half-century in just 36 deliveries. After they had added 136 in just 14.4 overs, Sehwag fell, moving too far across his stumps in an effort to work Tremlett down to fine leg.
Gambhir's dismissal was as tame, paddling Maddy to short fine leg, and when Robin Uthappa was bowled on the walk by Tremlett, a wobble was possible. But with Mahendra Singh Dhoni largely a spectator at the other end, Yuvraj proceeded to play the most remarkable innings ever seen in Twenty20 cricket.
Everything that followed was an anticlimax. Solanki gave it a real go at the top of the order, cutting and pulling with immense power, and there was 29 from Darren Maddy as the first-wicket pair kept up with the asking rate. Joginder Sharma, playing his first game of the tournament, could have had both, but Rudra Pratap Singh fluffed a chance at deep third man and Yuvraj Singh a sitter at point to leave poor Joginder with the distinctly unflattering figures of 0 for 56.
Kevin Pietersen mowed a couple of shots down the ground and targetted the short midwicket boundary ruthlessly. Solanki departed for 43, caught in the deep, and Pathan and RP Singh then increased the pressure with a couple of tight overs. The clincher was the dismissal of Pietersen, a stunning return catch by Harbhajan, for 39, and the Indians celebrated as though the match was already in the bag.
It wasn't quite. Owais Shah and Collingwood flailed away for a while to create some anxiety in the Indian camp, but a brilliant over from RP Singh settled nerves, as Shah skied one and Collingwood was bowled behind his legs. After that, the task was beyond even Flintoff, and India could reflect on a job well done and a Yuvraj blitz that fairly shifted the ground from beneath English feet.
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor on Cricinfo